On October 27, Rustem Kazazi was planning on boarding a plane to his original home country, Albania. His plan was to take his life savings there in order to buy a vacation home that his family could enjoy during his retirement, and also to help out some relatives that needed monetary assistance. Kazazi carefully counted out his cash and labeled it in his bag. However, as Kazazi attempted to complete the security requirements at the airport, the money was seized and Kazazi was interrogated in a private room, according to CNN.
Now, Kazazi is suing U.S. Customs to get his money back. The lawsuit claims that Kazazi did nothing wrong. On the other hand, U.S. Customs is claiming that the money was seized due to it being tied to “a smuggling/drug trafficking/money laundering operation.” However, no evidence has been given to substantiate those claims. Kazazi and his family say that the money that he had was earned legally. The Institute for Justice emphasized this fact.
“None of this is true — the Kazazis saved up their money from jobs they held lawfully in America, and they have 13 years of tax documents and bank statements to prove it. Moreover, the government has never pointed to any evidence of wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, U.S. Customs has violated the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000, which required them to respond to the Kazazi’s requests to return the money by April 17. Ironically, it was the civil asset forfeiture law that allowed the customs agents to take the money from Kazazi, even though he was not charged with a crime. And Kazazi’s case is not unusual.
According to the Washington Post, an estimated $2 billion was seized in 2017. The number is the same as the amount of money stolen during home burglaries.
"The searches turned up nothing — no drugs, no contraband, no evidence of any illegal activity, according to the lawsuit. But the agents took Kazazi's money." https://t.co/eaW3iUz8Af— Ramez Naam (@ramez) June 1, 2018
Kazazi was once an Albanian citizen and worked as a police officer. In 2005, his family won the right to immigrate to America through the lottery program. In 2010, the Kazazis became U.S. citizens. The $58,100 that was seized was the product of saving over 12 years. It wasn’t just Kazazi’s money, either. The savings included money from his wife, Lejla, and son, Erald.
Kazazi, who only speaks a little English, was interrogated by agents without a translator. Kazazi explained through his son, who translated for him, why he had cash on hand instead of using a wire transfer.
“The crime [in Albania] is much worse than it is here… Other people that have made large withdrawals [from Albanian banks] have had people intercept them and take their money. The exchange rates and fees are [also] excessive.”
Additionally, Kazazi said that the interrogation and search included a “strip search” during which agents “started searching different areas of my body.”